Mediation in new media production : representation and involvement of audiences/users at NESTA Futurelab
This thesis addresses the interface between producers of new media and their audiences/users as it manifests itself in production. It is based on a case study of NESTA Futurelab (a production-research laboratory in educational new media) conducted in its first year of existence, as its staff sought to define the endeavour —'what it is for' and, more importantly, 'whom it is for'. Drawing on science and technology studies (STS) and media theory, this study challenges models of the producer-user interface which endorse 'technical mediation' in proposing alternatives to its three components — the use bias, overstated co-design and the ontological divide between producers and users. In response to the use bias, the study of Futurelab demonstrates that the producers' perceptions of their audiences (both users and partners) determine from the outset decisions as to the organization's purpose, structure, methodology and outputs. Overstated co-design is countered by uncovering the producers' downplaying of direct user involvement and any pretension to scientific methodology through which they engage the users. This study stresses the more pervasive practice of mediation whereby they represent the absent users. This is further conceptualized through their portrayal as 'experience-based experts' — the producers claim the ability to contribute substantively to production by virtue of their social experience, while minimizing their technical competence. Lastly, the presumed ontological divide between producers and users is contested by illustrating that the spheres of production and reception overlap in the producers' experience, which is reactivated on an ad hoc basis in production. Through notions such as 'reflexivity', 'prior feedback', 'producer-user overlap', `mediated quasi-interaction' and 'experience-based expertise', the producer-user interface is thus inscribed in the continuity of producers' social experience rather than being seen as an interaction purposely and strategically instated at a discrete moment. The most notable instances of continuity are captured by the producers' playing of the synthetic role of producer-user, which rests on the claimed proximity between production and other relevant social situations.